Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Book on Boone County reveals bizarre history

Boone County was organized and named before Missouri was admitted as a state! Some old English customs and laws held over for years; one of those was the "imprisonment for debt" law.

As late as 1837 the prison bounds of the county jail were marked as being "60 rods square, with the jail in the center. A prisoner, having given certain bonds, with two securities, could go outside the prison but not outside the marked boundaries." Some boundaries passed through private homes; a convicted debtor named Crews found that part of his brick home was available to him but part was not! The law was a rigid one, and the debtors were locked in the jail at night. In 1845, the legislature abolished the imprisonment for debt law.

Recently when I had a chance to buy a book of county history - almost 300 pages of it - I couldn’t resist. "The Bench and Bar of Boone County" written and published by North Todd Gentry, contains not very important speeches, reports of court actions and other trivia that I found interesting but of no particular importance. Example: Judge Burckhartt held court in Columbia several times during the Civil War, and he sat on the bench with two pistols buckled around his waist.

In June 1828, the grand jury indicted a man for distilling liquor on Sunday. A second count accused the man, with force of arms, of compelling his slaves to bring wood and attend a certain distillery on The Lord’s Day.

He was tried by a jury, found guilty and fined $10 on each of several counts.

Ira P. Nash, thought to be the first Caucasian to set foot in the area that became Boone County, "was a shrewd town boomer and promoter, as well as a physician, surveyor, horticulturist and agriculturist who did not have the proper respect for the rights of others but enjoyed playing an unfair trick on his fellow man; hence his extreme unpopularity."

In 1835 a Missouri law prohibited a master - or owner - of a slave to "suffer the slave to go at large upon a hiring of his own time or to act or deal as a free person." Several men were found guilty of this and were fined $20 each.

In 1846 Zodiac Riggs died, willing two slaves to his wife; the slaves, Charlie and his wife, were to become free, "the same as if they had never been in bondage." Charlie and his wife were very valuable and as Riggs’ will gave the heirs no interest in them, some of the heirs filed suit to break the will. Accordingly, Mrs. Riggs, devoted to the two slaves, wrote out a pass, signed it and gave it to them with money enough to go to Canada. Mrs. Riggs concealed this from her heirs till they would be safely in Canada.

In 1848, Lewis, a free person of color, was prosecuted for "aiding and assisting in decoying Caroline, slave, the property of a Mr. Selby." Selby owned a hotel in Columbia, and Caroline was a waitress there. Lewis had been liberated by his former master; he had to go to jail for visiting Caroline and telling her of the benefits of freedom.

The first water-closet operated in Boone County was constructed in the main building at the university, and the sewer extended west to private property on Sixth Street. The plaintiff won his lawsuit when he figured out the quantity of filth that would be "pitched over into Mr. B’s front yard and immediately under his front window, in proximity to his optical and olfactory nerves."

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.